The main intention of the Parliament summoned shortly after Elizabeth’s accession to the throne was, in the words of Lord Keeper Sir Nicholas Bacon, to establish ‘an uniforme order of religion’. The state opening of the Parliament was delayed for two days by bad weather and the new queen’s indisposition. Addressing the assembled Lords and Commons on 25 Jan. 1559 Bacon also drew attention to the recent loss of Calais and the need to maintain the navy and coastal defences including England’s ‘frontiers northwarde’ at a time when war, debt, and inflation had been responsible for the ‘marvailous decaye and waste of the revenewe of the Crowne’. His speech broadly outlines Elizabeth’s manifesto not just for 1559 but for the whole reign: to restore stability, prosperity, and peace to the realm and avoid ‘continuall chaunge and alteracion, things much to be eschewed in all good governaunces’.1Though present at the opening ceremony she made no recorded contribution herself but via Bacon assented to the appointment of Sir Thomas Gargrave, sitting for Yorkshire, as Speaker, and granted the Commons’ customary requests for freedom of speech and privilege from arrest.
Once the Parliament had begun details of debate in both Houses are unfortunately lacking; no private diaries survive, and the Commons Journal kept by the clerk John Seymour maintained only a minimal record of daily business. The membership of the Lower House numbered 402, of whom around a quarter had sat in the previous Parliament. The latter figure is perhaps surprisingly low, given that the last Parliament of Queen Mary’s reign was still in session when it was automatically dissolved by her death on 17 Nov. 1558. We may surmise that a majority of constituencies (and their patrons) took the opportunity of a fresh general election to return men whose political and/or religious outlook significantly differed from that of their predecessors. With the exception of a handful of MPs who had recently returned from exile abroad, however, the religious views of the Commons are difficult to assess.2 The Lords, including the bishops, were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and trenchantly opposed bills intended to establish a Protestant church of England. Viscount Montagu (Anthony Browne), for example, warned that the proposed reforms would leave ‘the Mass abrogated ... sacramentes prophaned, holie aultars destroyed, temples vyolated, mariage of priests allowed, their children made legitimate’, and also foresaw that excommunication from Rome would entail dire consequences in ‘the eyes of all Christendome’.3 After long arguments on both sides two measures were passed, namely the Act of Supremacy and Act of Uniformity, which together comprise the Elizabethan Settlement of religion.
On the first full day of business, 30 Jan., a committee was appointed to draft a subsidy bill; the supply that resulted was by Elizabeth ‘taken in thankefull parte’, as were revenues from clerical first fruits and tenths, and tunnage and poundage (Customs duties), each granted to her for life. The queen’s imperial title was confirmed by statute, and another measure made restitution of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Religious houses, monasteries, chantries, and the lands of vacant bishoprics were returned to royal control, thereby securing a further significant source of income to the Crown. Other new legislation introduced in this Parliament included an Act to encourage English shipping; several statutes relating to the leather trade; provision for the regulation of linen cloth manufacturing; the preservation of fish spawn; and prohibitions on the use of timber by the iron industry.
Early in the session Elizabeth was petitioned to marry and settle the royal succession. In reply she informed the Commons that although they had no right to ‘drawe my love to your lykinges or frame my will to your fantasies’, she received their advice ‘in good parte’ because it contained ‘no limytacion of place or person’.4 Disregarding her instruction to put the matter ‘cleane out of your heades’, thirty MPs were subsequently appointed to meet with a delegation of twelve from the House of Lords on 16 Feb. to discuss the ‘authority of that person whom it shall please the queen to take to husband’; however, the outcome of their deliberations went unreported.5 They may have been particularly concerned about Philip II of Spain, Mary’s widower, who had already proposed to Elizabeth in the hope of ensuring that England remain Catholic. Although her answer was negative she carefully maintained amity with Philip long enough to secure his assistance both in negotiating a mutually beneficial peace with France at Câteau Cambrésis in April 1559, and in persuading Pope Pius IV not to proceed with her excommunication for the time being.6 Notwithstanding the fact that with regard to questions of both the religious settlement and the royal succession the expectations of many of Elizabeth’s subjects remained far from fully satisfied, her first Parliament was dissolved on 8 May as harmoniously as it had begun, a total of 24 public statutes and 17 private measures having been enacted.
For more information on this Parliament, see the appendix in the Introductory survey to the 1558-1603 Section of the History.
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
Author: Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. <i>Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I, ed. T.E. Hartley</i>, i. 3, 33-9.